Strawberry Hill Povitica Co.’s new Merriam location will answer a common customer question: Where’s your bakery located?
At its previous home in a Lenexa industrial park, the bakery was hidden behind the small retail shop. Now it’s prominently displayed behind 120 feet of windows. Customers can follow the process — from the dough being mixed and then rolled into thin skins to fillings prepared and then spread on top of the dough to a slight flip of the tablecloth to the roll up the povitica (pronounced pô-va-teet-sa). Then workers fold the rolls into S-shapes to put in the pans. Soon an oven cam will be installed so customers can watch the artisan breads as they brown in five large industrial ovens in the back room.
Retail customers not only have easier access to the shop just off Interstate 35, they also can sample the products — 10 standard flavors, two seasonal — with free coffee and water in the company’s welcome center.
Brothers and co-owners Marc O’Leary (vice president/executive director) and Dennis O’Leary (president) use their grandmothers’ recipes. As children, they would grind walnuts for the traditional English walnut flavor, attaching a cast iron grinder to the kitchen table and working for what seemed like hours. Because the process is so labor intensive, families would make several loaves at a time and hand them over the back fence as gifts to neighbors.
Their father, Harley O’Leary, started selling the loaves at the City Market as a hobby. Then in 1984, the hobby turned into a Strawberry Hill retail shop and bakery. The sons joined the business in the early 1990s and the bakery relocated to larger quarters in Merriam and then Lenexa, where it expanded twice. Harley O’Leary passed away in 1999.
When the brothers relocated to a 7,818-square-foot space a decade ago, they were confident it was roomy enough to handle business growth for years to come. But seven years later they were “bursting at the seams.” The brothers even shared an office, a space they gave up to order takers during the peak season of September to January.
The staff jumps from 30 people to more than 100 during this period, then sales take a little dip before going back up during Easter, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, when they also sell blueberry cream cheese povitica. In the fall they offer another special flavor, a pumpkin spice. They produced a special batch this week to send out as samples to national magazines, hopefully resulting in plugs in fall issues.
Only about 10 percent of sales are from local consumers. Many of their mail-order customers are former area residents, but they also have a strong following in several pockets across the country — the Great Lakes, Chicago and upper Michigan, as well as retirement communities in Florida and Arizona. Area corporations also like to buy the Eastern European-styled swirled breads as “Kansas City” themed gifts for the holidays.
The company also is benefiting from the “buy local” movement and building new generations through grandmothers.
“Grandma buys it, sending it to kids at Christmas. Then the kids feel like it is not Christmas unless they have some povitica,” said Dennis O’Leary.
The bread sells for $18.99 for a two-and-a-half pound loaf. Dennis still prefers the traditional English walnut flavor, while Marc likes the poppy seed. Other flavors include chocolate chip cream cheese, reduced sugar walnut, and apple cinnamon. Customers also can get four, one-pound sampler sizes for $49.99.
“We got a lot of requests for an apricot povitica. If you went back 60 years, they were emptying that can of apricot preserves because they didn’t use it over the winter and using it to make apricot povitica,” Marc O’Leary said. “People remember that.”
Now the brothers look at their expansive new 20,150-square-foot space, where production can increase from the 3,000 loaves to 6,000 loaves a day, and they’re sure it will suffice for future growth.
But their landlord has some land out back ready for development, just in case.
Strawberry Hill Povitica Co. will hold a ribbon cutting at 8:30 a.m. today at its new bakery and retail shop at 7226 W. Frontage Road, Merriam. It will include live traditional Croatian music and tours.
Regular hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.
New in downtown OP
- Bizzy Diva, a locally owned jewelry and accessories boutique, plans to open at 7932 Santa Fe Drive in downtown Overland Park, on Aug. 3. It will feature sportswear, handbags, jewelry, balloons, and other items, many by local designers.